The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Although Lost Horizon won the prestigious Hawthornden Prize in England, it became a popular success only following the acclaim for James Hilton’s Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1933). Frank Capra’s classic 1937 film version of Lost Horizon brought Hilton’s story to worldwide attention, and Shangri-La, the fictional Himalayan mountain lamasery where human beings aged slowly and sought wisdom, became a general term for an ideal place to live. During the war-torn decades of the 1930’s and 1940’s, Hilton’s vision expressed a longing for a quieter and more peaceful existence.

Lost Horizon begins as a standard adventure story. After a preliminary introduction of the hero, Hugh “Glory” Conway, and an explanation of his presence in Asia, the narrative opens with an account of how Conway and three other European travelers escape by plane from a violent revolution in the Asian city of Baskul. That revolution symbolizes the instability of the modern world. As their escape flight proceeds, the pilot changes course and flies ever deeper into the Himalayas. Conway and his companions realize that they have been kidnapped, but they are powerless. The plane crashes and the pilot is killed, stranding the party. Before he dies, however, the pilot mentions a Tibetan lamasery called Shangri-La.

As the European travelers plan their next move, they see figures coming toward them. Their rescuers are from Shangri-La, and the...

(The entire section is 589 words.)